September 2016: A perfect Houston evening

miracle

3 interviews, 1 play, 3 books, 100+ nuns, 1 [long] joyful art experience, with videos

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That’s my lesson to all the young students: pay your parking tickets, or you could wind up in the slammer, and believe me, it’s no fun.

Brent Spiner, aka Data from Star Trek. I talked to him on speakerphone for 30 minutes while parked in a Syracuse rest stop – incredibly nice and funny guy, and probably my longest-ever conversation with a proper celebrity.

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At first, I wanted to go into scripted filmmaking…. [but] there was a moment in time where I started to watch documentaries, and I became enamored with them — just in love with the truthful quality that you get from real human interactions which is impossible, really, to replicate in a work of fiction. To sift through hundreds of hours of footage to find a real, human interaction that you captured on film — there’s not one single fictional moment that can beat that, not one.

Kathryn Haydn, non-fiction television producer. Before we talked, I sat in on her presentation to a documentary filmmaking class, which was chock-full of practical advice and fascinating showbiz tidbits.

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One student in my class wrote a beautiful poem that mentioned Taub Hall by name. That was a revelation to me, that art could be made about a dorm room, about the mundane things surrounding us. At the time it seemed to elevate experience, to transform it.

Melissa Ginsburg, author of “Sunset City.” I read the book (a gritty Houston noir) and we corresponded via email. What’s interesting is that she’s primarily a poet and professor at Ole Miss, but she felt compelled to cross forms to write “Sunset City.”

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More than just a great headline: Hundreds of nuns trained in Kung Fu are biking the Himalayas to oppose human trafficking

“We wanted to do something to change this attitude that girls are less than boys and that it’s okay to sell them,” she said, adding that the bicycle trek shows “women have power and strength like men.”

– Jigme Konchok Lhamo, 22-year-old Nepalese Buddhist nun

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“Buried Child” by Sam Shepard
Catastrophic Theatre at MATCH

I read this play on a Saturday afternoon at the Emerson College library while it snowed outside, which was about the coziest and most exhilarating play-reading I’ve experienced, and I couldn’t wait to see this production. Fie on my memory because the play was not like I remember it at all, mostly because I pictured it being performed at a fast pace, and the talented actors on a perfectly drab set took an eternity to pull out the scenes. Some parts of this play should be slow, some explosive. Of course, it was treated to a round of gushing reviews by Houston’s breathless theater critics, which I’m learning to ignore not because their opinions aren’t valuable, but because it’s dangerous to let myself get over-excited about theatrical performances.

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“Crooked Heart” by Lissa Evans
This would make a fantastically whacked musical, with Rex Harrison-style talk-singing. Then, the completely dark scene in the bomb shelter, wherein shelterers start nervously, laughingly calling out the luxurious food they’d like to eat, would be beautifully jarring. It’s no surprise that Evans is a TV producer. I’ll eat my library card if it hasn’t already been optioned by the BBC.

“Animals” by Emma Jane Unsworth
I believed in these characters, and their un-obvious wit is irresistible. The ending is the part that felt a little obvious, and I can’t say I appreciated Tyler in the same way I appreciated Laura, but the ride is worth it. Do not believe lazy people who will compare this book to “Girls” or “Trainwreck” and dismiss it.

“The First Bad Man” by Miranda July
Truly unique, funny, relatable and uncomfortable. I like July’s films for the same reasons, I suppose. But the discomfort extended into novel form was not really what I wanted to read before bedtime. The ideal reading scenario for “The First Bad Man” would be to sneak into waiting rooms without an appointment and read it all there.

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Bob Parks: artist talk

I wrote a feverish journal entry after this experience so I wouldn’t forget anything, and given the nature of Bob’s art and personality, I figured it would be best to include an almost-unadulterated version below. Note: I didn’t watch the documentary related to the two clips included here. The exhibition was visual art and artifacts.

It was what I’d like to call a perfect Houston evening, what you hope for when you go out, really. I found this artist conversation on Glass Tire with Bob Parks. The photo was of an eccentric looking guy, an older Weird Al type with a big British nose. I figured it was some art student’s photo of his grandpa, but it was actually a picture of Bob himself, wearing a Hawaiian shirt in his garden. The weird list of topics drew me in. 

A stub of a bulldog ran to meet us at the gallery. There was no one else inside except the curator, who followed the dog and introduced herself and the dog (his name was Boo), and another worker, a very young woman who was not introduced. An immediate awkwardness because we were the only people there. I was worried no one else would show up for the conversation. She gave us a flyer and we looked around for a few minutes. Weird mementos and photographs. Incredibly detailed drawings. Detailed logs of physiological health written in tiny, neat capital letters. A lot of “light constipation.” The dog sat on his bum looking at the ceiling, flailing his head back and forth in an especially groovy Stevie Wonder impersonation. He stopped eventually, and sat down near us.

The curator said she would go get Bob, and I expected him to arrive shortly. But then I heard a Skype noise, and realized she was flipping Skyping him in from England. She gave him a tour of the show by holding up her ipad, and we said hi when she got to us. No one else was coming in. 

She asked Bob how he came to be in a documentary (that’s how they found about him) while we were waiting in vain for more people to show up, and then he read an account of what he dictated to his mother about his “murderous rages.” Basically, he won’t ask questions of people he wouldn’t want asked of himself, so he’s dying for anyone to ask him a question so that he can ask it of them. He has quite a struggle with mental illness and is not on meds, we found out later, when the curator awkwardly asked him. “But you seem so well-balanced!” she said.

But, that was after he read the account of his murderous rages, as dictated to his mother, whom he dearly misses, and after he read a poem (“shall I do a poem then?”) about taking his parents on a tour of the national parks of England, when he was constipated and his dad was, shall we say, the opposite of constipated, and after he played two songs on his flutes, which made him very red-faced, and after he sang bits of two songs from the 50s (“before the beatles, a lovely sort of music”) and a song called “big nose” that he wrote and performed in the documentary. It was so weird and fabulous. We couldn’t leave, we were the only ones there and it would have been too conspicuous. The ipad kept slipping down from where it leaned against the back of the computer, and the curator kept propping it back up.


(Bob’s mum features heavily in this trailer.)

She asked him, first, about the dictation to his mom, but she misunderstood and thought that his mom had composed it (I kind of thought that too, he may have not explained very much) and expressed how nice it was, and how everyone wants to be listened to. He corrected her about the composition of the statement, and turned around the question on her: it sounds like you want to be listened to. Why do you feel like no one’s listening to you? You’re the curator, but not showing your own art? And she was flustered, first of all because oh no I’m not the curator, so first denying that talent, and then flustered because she doesn’t have any talent, “I’ve always been a facilitator for other people’s talent.” It felt very personal. Then the mental health thing. It got him on a roll about how everyone’s been psychotic since the first world war, and how no truly original and creative ideas had sprung forth since we started killing people on a global scale. Then I asked about media, and what he’s working in now. And he said something about Stanislavsky or Stravinsky and how an idea is transferred from the person to the canvas to another person, or something, but the message was really that medium is irrelevant, that the idea just has to be expressed. I’m probably butchering that. He also said, more practically, that he’s working class, and that means he often ends up just writing lately because it’s most available.

Then he went to bed, as it was midnight there, and we hung up on him. The curator offered to buy us a drink and chat for a bit, because she felt like she really needed to talk. We bought our own drinks, but did stay. We spent about half an hour talking about art in Houston and how Bob’s comment about her sharing her work struck her (“He was right, I don’t create my own work”). She was great, about our age, and we ended up having a lot of the same connections. We got her email address and promised to return.

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Image/screenshot from Bob Parks advert

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